Chicago, Illinois born and raised, Nick Anderson was a standout on the hardwood from a very early age. The shooting guard/small forward was named Illinois Mr. Basketball after leading Simeon Career Academy to the city championship and USA Today national ranking in 1986.
The McDonald’s All-American continued to live up to the Mr. Basketball accolade as he starred collegiately at the University of Illinois, leading the “Flying Illini” to the Final Four.
Anderson made history as he was selected in the first round with the 11th overall pick by the expansion Orlando Magic in the 1989 NBA Draft. He was the first pick in the history of organization. Anderson was a consistent scorer and a starter for an up and coming team that, in subsequent years, added the likes of Shaquille O’Neal and Anfernee Hardaway through the draft to become one of the most exciting young teams in the NBA.
The long range sharpshooter played for the Magic, Kings and Grizzlies during his 13 year NBA career. He averaged nearly 15 points per game during the course of his career.
He’s currently a hoops ambassador for the Magic and also does analyst work on television.
We caught up to him to talk about his rookie cards, his breathtaking collection of game used sneakers and playing in the golden era of professional basketball.
Tony Reid- Being a standout and literally being Mr. Illinois in high school, I’m sure you were signing your autograph at a very young age. When was the very first time you were asked for your signature?
Nick Anderson-I had to be my freshman year. I can remember signing autographs my freshman year of high school. After a couple of high school games and summer tournaments guys got to see me play and they asked me if I would mind signing an autograph. Why not? I didn’t think much of it back then, so I did it. I did it a bunch of times.
TR–What is the most memorable fan interaction you had during your long NBA career?
NA-There are several, especially from my NBA career when we had that dominant young team here in Orlando with myself, Shaq, Penny Hardaway, Horace Grant and Dennis Scott. The times that you pull up to the hotel in different cities and you have numerous people standing there to trying to get things signed. I have always been the type of guy that if someone is standing out in the cold just to get an autograph, at least you can take the time to sign a few items. It might not be many but at least stop and sign a few of them. I never minded doing that at the time.
TR–You were a very popular player on a very popular team. How much fan mail do you get on a regular basis to this day?
NA– I get it at my home address. I can’t say that I sign all of it but there are things that may be sitting around and I will open them up and I will sit down and sign some items, put them back in the envelope and send them back out. I do that. If there is time for me to do it I take the time out to do it.
TR–Your rookie cards appeared in 1990-91 Fleer, Hoops and Skybox products. Do you remember the first time you saw your rookie card?
NA-Oh, yeah. It was fascinating to see cards back then and how cards and memorabilia has evolved to what it is today.
TR– Did you manage to hold on to any of your cards over the years?
NA– A fan put all of my cards in a nice frame and created this beautiful framework. They passed it and several cards on to me and I still have it to this day.
TR– Do you have an office or mancave where you have memorabilia from your illustrious career displayed?
NA-I have several pictures hanging in the house. Some of my favorite pictures that I have include one from the NBA Finals where I was guarding Clyde Drexler. I have a nice picture of myself guarding Michael Jordan the night his jersey was stolen and he had to wear number 12. I have that framed. I also have a picture framed of me guarding Magic Johnson. Those are three of my favorites right there.
TR–Those incredible players you just mentioned. To me, that was the golden era of the NBA and basketball in general. What does it mean for you to be a part of that history?
NA-When you think about the guys I guarded in the league in that era or even guys I was mentored by is amazing. I grew up under Isiah Thomas in Chicago I played against him growing up in Chicago. I guarded him during my career. That was special right there. All of those Hall of Famers-Isiah Thomas, Clyde Drexler, Michael Jordan, Reggie Miller right on down the line. I had a great opportunity to play against some of the best ball payers to have ever played the game.
TR– Sneakers are such a huge part of basketball culture. Do you own any cool pairs of kicks?
NA-I have some special shoes that were given to me by MJ. I have shoes from Shaq. I have some of Penny’s Foamposites and stuff like that. The way they collect shoes and how valuable they are today is amazing. If you have a pair of shoes and you hold on to them they can become a fortune for you.
TR-The jersey swap is a new tradition in the sports world. If you could swap jerseys with anyone you played against who would you swap with and why?
NA-Oh, I can name a few. Can you imagine if I could have swapped jerseys with Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan? Shaq didn’t even give his jerseys away. Could you imagine swapping jerseys with all of those guys and get them signed and have those today? Like I said, you are holding on to a gold mine. I see James Harden and Giannis, they are all swapping jerseys. Those jerseys with be work a fortune down the road.
TR-Who do you see yourself in most in today’s NBA?
NA-That is a great question. I like to post up. I don’t see many guys posting up like I did. I would post up guys that were 5’10” to 6’10”. I like shooters. I am a big fan of Devin Booker. I like the way guys like that come off screens and move without the ball. They say the guy that is the most dangerous man on the floor is the guy that can move without the ball. Reggie Miller, a guy that ran through 5,000 screens during the game, I respect guys like that. They can get open and create shots for themselves and other players. I respect guys like that.